My trip to the US was a long-time ago, or so it seemed, and I wanted to go away to celebrate my next birthday.
I was chatting about it to my mate, Theresa (aka Hot Chocolate, as she is oft referred to in this blog)
“Where are you going?”
“To the Isle of Wight. I haven’t been there for a very long time.”
“Isle of Wight? Where Kim lives?”
Kim is an ex-colleague.
“Who you going with?”
“On my own.”
“Do you fancy some company?”
T and I worked together for years, and we know each other well. We know each other’s little quirks. We both like the odd glass of wine. Going away together really was a no-brainer. In fact, the only reason it hasn’t happened before is that we couldn’t do it when we worked together. I explained that I‘d already booked the hotel and that I could get the booking amended, etc. Game on.
T and I met at Waterloo Station. Under the clock that has been the start of so many relationships, covert meetings and who knows what else? Armed with a couple of cappuccini, a bottle of fizz for the train and enough clothes to keep a full battalion of soldiers going for several months, we boarded our train for Portsmouth Harbour.
I hadn’t been to Portsmouth since the mid 90’s and I knew things had changed. I also knew I didn’t remember it well. Presumably, something to do with alcoholic haze. Looking online, I hadn’t been able to get a real feel for the distance from the station to the ferry port. I thought we might have to get a cab…. Not realising that they are so close as to almost share an umbilical cord. No cab was necessary.
We were booked on the 13.15 crossing but were there early enough for the 12.15. Fortunately for us, the very nice young man let us board straight away. I suppose it would have been different if they’d been fully booked…
We arrived in Ryde about half an hour later and got the little train to Shanklin, where we were staying. All our paperwork told us that we couldn’t check into the hotel until 15.00 so we and our suitcases (my large suitcase and Theresa’s more moderate sized one) went for a mooch about the town. We found a pub called the Falcon which looked ok, and, outside, it said it served food.
Inside, the music was good, but no food, so a couple of glasses of Pinot later, we were on our way. We walked the full length of the High Street, up and down to a little pub called The Crab. We walked past it the first time around because, as the famous thatched roof was being re-thatched and it was hard to see, but soon realised our mistake and turned back.
We were glad we stopped off here, for several reasons. Firstly, it was proper pub food, nothing too fancy, but good, old-fashioned food. Secondly, we were among only about half a dozen customers when we entered, so when we ordered food, it arrived quickly. Thirdly, the barman, Dave, was an absolute sweetheart. He was also a Manc, so he and T had a lot to talk about. (I may have neglected to mention her northern heritage before.)
A bottle of wine between us, half a roast chicken with corn on the cob and proper, fat chips…. Heaven for two hungry girls. Dave gave us directions to our hotel, so off we trotted.
The hotel receptionist (who also turned out to be the manageress) was very helpful. She gave us a bus timetable and map, a local street map and some other info about things to do on the island. We settled in our room and promptly fell asleep for several hours. It’s one of the things that Theresa and I have in common, we both like to sleep. We rest when we need to. It makes spending time together much easier when you don’t have to comply with conventional behaviour.
We went for a drink in the bar but decided it was still too early to sleep after our mammoth afternoon nap, so we went for a walk down to the seafront. A midnight stroll is always pleasurable, especially when it’s windy and not too cold. It was very quiet and there was not much to see, but that’s the way I like it, it gives my imagination a chance to work overtime.
We crept back into our hotel around 1 am, like a pair of naughty schoolgirls and went to bed. Properly this time.
Breakfast the following morning was served between 07.00 and 09.00, so we went down about 08.00 and settled down for a Full English. We swapped a few things and probably ended up each having a full meal. Back to the room to get our gear and off we trotted for the buses to take us to Osborne House.
I was pleasantly surprised with the buses on the island, they were punctual and the bus drivers were very friendly. We also bought a 48-hour pass which cost us about £15; considerably more economical than buying individual tickets.
We had to get a bus to Ryde to go to Osborne House, so travel was a couple of hours. It was worth the journey. There is a lot to see.
We started our visit at the Swiss Cottage, built by Albert for his children. It sits in its own gardens, mostly vegetable, that the children used to tend themselves. Nowadays, it’s a museum with a range of collections from stuffed birds to crystals to collections from the Far East.
Moving on from here, we went to the beach. It was warm and peaceful here, easy to see why Queen Victoria loved it so much. Her bathing machine has been restored to its former glory. The bathing machine had a changing room and a veranda in which the Queen could change into her swimming costume in private. It would then take her into the sea (it ran on rails) where she had a dip and then return to get changed in private.
From there, we walked up to the main house. We were both absolutely stunned by the beauty of the gardens. The colours of the flower beds both complemented and contrasted at the same time. Lots of purples, greys and reds. I’m not good with the names of flowers, I think there was a Salvia in there somewhere, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it. Of course, alongside the flowers was the architecture. It is stunning, very grand, and built in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo, by the same company that built the main façade at Buckingham Palace. After being a home for the Victorian Royal Family, it had a couple of other iterations, as both a Royal Naval College and an officers’ convalescent home before being taken over by English Heritage. It was a lovely visit.
The following day we went inland, to a craft village at Arreton Barns, describing itself as ‘the island’s largest centre for arts and crafts.’ It was a popular little place, with quite a lot for children to do. The pub there, the Dairyman’s Daughter, did a lot of lunches which looked to be extremely good value – had we not already had a massive breakfast, I dare say we would have participated too.
That evening, we found a fantastic restaurant, Morgans. The food was excellent, the best belly pork I’ve ever had. You can see my review of it here:
The following day, we came home. We had enough time to get the bus back to Ryde, rather than the train, thus using our bus tickets. We walked up from the bus station to the ferry port – it’s not a long walk and there wasn’t too much traffic, so it was easy enough. The pontoon is designed for two-way traffic. The pedestrian path is quite narrow, so when there are people going both ways, one of you has to walk on the road.
Time for a coffee before our ferry, then a train ride home, back to normal life. Until the next time.
© Susan Shirley 2018